The woman who's convincing Mumbai to farm in small flats

The CEO of her own business in her twenties, Priyanka Amar Shah represents a new generation of businesspersons.

Mumbai. A city with a human population of two crores. A city which has one of the highest population densities in the world. For decades it has been the engine of India’s economic growth. Here real estate has been more precious than gold (figuratively and sometimes even literally) for many, many years. Where buying a 500 square feet pigeonhole of a flat is difficult for many people.

It is in this overpopulated urban jungle that the good old kitchen garden (if you don’t know what that is, ask your parents!) is trying to gain a toehold. And it has found a champion in Priyanka Amar Shah, the founder of iKheti.

iKheti was born over a casual dinner-time conversation in late 2011.

At that time, Priyanka’s college, Welingkar Institute of Management, Mumbai, was organising a concept show called Dmagics. As part of the programme, every participant had to come up with a business idea, flesh it out by writing a business plan and then present their plan to a panel of judges. The judges included investors, senior working professionals and other experts. The idea was to foster entrepreneurial thinking in the students of the college. Priyanka signed on for it.

Over dinner one night, her brother Rahul said, ‘Why don’t you help people grow kitchen gardens?’

‘The idea seemed so logical and so apt for me, considering my upbringing. I took to it immediately,’ says Priyanka, recalling that life-changing moment. It was logical and apt because Priyanka had grown up with a kitchen garden at home. Her parents used to grow lemons, chillies and curry leaves in their flat and use them in their cooking.

She thought to herself that if her parents could maintain a kitchen garden in the limited space available in their flat, then so could the others who lived in similar apartments across Mumbai.

A kitchen garden (or “urban farm” as Priyanka calls it) promises quite a few benefits. It provides you with your private green area (your lung space) at home. It makes available chemical-free vegetables right at home, thereby reducing your dependence on the vegetable market.

Also, by “farming” small vegetables and herbs at home, you are bringing the farm-to-plate distance down to zero. Which is an environment-friendly move on your part for two reasons.

One, there is no wastage because of transportation. Two, as there is no transportation involved, the carbon footprint of the home-grown food is zero.

Finally, there is the cost element. By eliminating the cost of transportation and the commission payable to agents all along the food transportation chain, you save a bit of money too!

At a deeper level therefore, a kitchen garden encourages people to learn and practice a simpler and more sustainable lifestyle.

As a person who loves nature, the idea appealed to Priyanka. “I thought this would be a very good thing for a city which is so full of concrete and so devoid of plant life. I wanted to build a profitable business out of this idea.”

Priyanka decided to present the idea at Dmagics, the concept show. But first, she explained the idea to her faculty mentors in college and asked them what they thought about it. At first, they were somewhat taken aback – ‘Farming? And in the cramped houses of Mumbai! But where is the space?’ was their first reaction.

Upon hearing this, Priyanka showed them a few pictures of the plants her family had actually grown at home and explained that they would not take up much space at all. The clincher was the fact that many planters could be mounted on walls and even hung from the ceiling! They are widely used across homes in America and Europe.

When her professors saw the pictures, her idea started to make sense to them.

They were surprised that a good bit of ingenuity had gone into the design of a home farm. They discussed the idea amongst themselves and realised that it was possible to make a viable business out of it after all. They therefore selected it as one of the business ideas that would be presented to the panel of judges at Dmagics.

Taking this decision as a pat on her back, Priyanka and two of her classmates started doing the necessary groundwork to back up her idea. They began to build a robust case for a sustainable venture. She knew that the judges would ask a lot of questions; it would not be easy to convince these seasoned veterans of the viability and scalability of any idea.

Excerpted with permission from The Underage CEOs: Fascinating Stories of Young Indians Who Became CEOs in their Twenties, Ganesh V, HarperCollins India.

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Behind the garb of wealth and success, white collar criminals are hiding in plain sight

Understanding the forces that motivate leaders to become fraudsters.

Most con artists are very easy to like; the ones that belong to the corporate society, even more so. The Jordan Belforts of the world are confident, sharp and can smooth-talk their way into convincing people to bend at their will. For years, Harshad Mehta, a practiced con-artist, employed all-of-the-above to earn the sobriquet “big bull” on Dalaal Street. In 1992, the stockbroker used the pump and dump technique, explained later, to falsely inflate the Sensex from 1,194 points to 4,467. It was only after the scam that journalist Sucheta Dalal, acting on a tip-off, broke the story exposing how he fraudulently dipped into the banking system to finance a boom that manipulated the stock market.


In her book ‘The confidence game’, Maria Konnikova observes that con artists are expert storytellers - “When a story is plausible, we often assume it’s true.” Harshad Mehta’s story was an endearing rags-to-riches tale in which an insurance agent turned stockbroker flourished based on his skill and knowledge of the market. For years, he gave hope to marketmen that they too could one day live in a 15,000 sq.ft. posh apartment with a swimming pool in upmarket Worli.

One such marketman was Ketan Parekh who took over Dalaal Street after the arrest of Harshad Mehta. Ketan Parekh kept a low profile and broke character only to celebrate milestones such as reaching Rs. 100 crore in net worth, for which he threw a lavish bash with a star-studded guest-list to show off his wealth and connections. Ketan Parekh, a trainee in Harshad Mehta’s company, used the same infamous pump-and-dump scheme to make his riches. In that, he first used false bank documents to buy high stakes in shares that would inflate the stock prices of certain companies. The rise in stock prices lured in other institutional investors, further increasing the price of the stock. Once the price was high, Ketan dumped these stocks making huge profits and causing the stock market to take a tumble since it was propped up on misleading share prices. Ketan Parekh was later implicated in the 2001 securities scam and is serving a 14-years SEBI ban. The tactics employed by Harshad Mehta and Ketan Parekh were similar, in that they found a loophole in the system and took advantage of it to accumulate an obscene amount of wealth.


Call it greed, addiction or smarts, the 1992 and 2001 Securities Scams, for the first time, revealed the magnitude of white collar crimes in India. To fill the gaps exposed through these scams, the Securities Laws Act 1995 widened SEBI’s jurisdiction and allowed it to regulate depositories, FIIs, venture capital funds and credit-rating agencies. SEBI further received greater autonomy to penalise capital market violations with a fine of Rs 10 lakhs.

Despite an empowered regulatory body, the next white-collar crime struck India’s capital market with a massive blow. In a confession letter, Ramalinga Raju, ex-chairman of Satyam Computers convicted of criminal conspiracy and financial fraud, disclosed that Satyam’s balance sheets were cooked up to show an excess of revenues amounting to Rs. 7,000 crore. This accounting fraud allowed the chairman to keep the share prices of the company high. The deception, once revealed to unsuspecting board members and shareholders, made the company’s stock prices crash, with the investors losing as much as Rs. 14,000 crores. The crash of India’s fourth largest software services company is often likened to the bankruptcy of Enron - both companies achieved dizzying heights but collapsed to the ground taking their shareholders with them. Ramalinga Raju wrote in his letter “it was like riding a tiger, not knowing how to get off without being eaten”, implying that even after the realisation of consequences of the crime, it was impossible for him to rectify it.

It is theorised that white-collar crimes like these are highly rationalised. The motivation for the crime can be linked to the strain theory developed by Robert K Merton who stated that society puts pressure on individuals to achieve socially accepted goals (the importance of money, social status etc.). Not having the means to achieve those goals leads individuals to commit crimes.

Take the case of the executive who spent nine years in McKinsey as managing director and thereafter on the corporate and non-profit boards of Goldman Sachs, Procter & Gamble, American Airlines, and Harvard Business School. Rajat Gupta was a figure of success. Furthermore, his commitment to philanthropy added an additional layer of credibility to his image. He created the American India Foundation which brought in millions of dollars in philanthropic contributions from NRIs to development programs across the country. Rajat Gupta’s descent started during the investigation on Raj Rajaratnam, a Sri-Lankan hedge fund manager accused of insider trading. Convicted for leaking confidential information about Warren Buffet’s sizeable investment plans for Goldman Sachs to Raj Rajaratnam, Rajat Gupta was found guilty of conspiracy and three counts of securities fraud. Safe to say, Mr. Gupta’s philanthropic work did not sway the jury.


The people discussed above have one thing in common - each one of them was well respected and celebrated for their industry prowess and social standing, but got sucked down a path of non-violent crime. The question remains - Why are individuals at successful positions willing to risk it all? The book Why They Do It: Inside the mind of the White-Collar Criminal based on a research by Eugene Soltes reveals a startling insight. Soltes spoke to fifty white collar criminals to understand their motivations behind the crimes. Like most of us, Soltes expected the workings of a calculated and greedy mind behind the crimes, something that could separate them from regular people. However, the results were surprisingly unnerving. According to the research, most of the executives who committed crimes made decisions the way we all do–on the basis of their intuitions and gut feelings. They often didn’t realise the consequences of their action and got caught in the flow of making more money.


The arena of white collar crimes is full of commanding players with large and complex personalities. Billions, starring Damien Lewis and Paul Giamatti, captures the undercurrents of Wall Street and delivers a high-octane ‘ruthless attorney vs wealthy kingpin’ drama. The show looks at the fine line between success and fraud in the stock market. Bobby Axelrod, the hedge fund kingpin, skilfully walks on this fine line like a tightrope walker, making it difficult for Chuck Rhoades, a US attorney, to build a case against him.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Hotstar and not by the Scroll editorial team.